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August 11, 2020 12:00 PM, EDT

Congressional Democrats Press White House for NEPA Docs

Trump at UPSAt UPS Inc.’s hub in Atlanta on July 15, Trump outlined reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act. (Evan Vucci/AP)

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Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Tom Carper is leading calls for the availability of records pertaining to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order related to infrastructure projects.

Carper of Delaware and several fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill are pressing the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to provide information about projects that fall under an executive order regarding the National Environmental Policy Act. Such documents include those that agencies have submitted to the Council on Environmental Quality.

Under the order signed this summer, the transportation secretary “shall provide a summary report, listing all projects that have been expedited” to the council, as well as the Office of Management and Budget.

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“These reports contain information on how billions of taxpayer dollars will be spent on projects impacting the health and safety of their communities. How these taxpayer dollars are spent should be subject to taxpayer scrutiny. By keeping these reports from the public, this administration is concealing its own response to the economic crisis brought on by the COVID[-19] pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote Aug. 6, citing reports OMB indicated the documents are not public. “If the administration is confident that this executive order can legally and legitimately provide economic relief, it should disclose which projects and decisions it is advancing under the auspices of the order.”

Among the Democrats joining Carper in the letter to Council on Environmental Quality chairperson Mary Neumayr were House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Last month, Trump promoted the advancement of major infrastructure projects through environmental permitting changes. In a forum at UPS Inc. in Atlanta, the president outlined NEPA-centric reforms across his administration. Critics of the decades-old law argue it impedes large projects and hinders regional economies.

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“With our reforms, there will be one quick and fair decision. We’re going to give every project a clear answer: ‘Yes or no. Yes or no.’ The two-year process, where just to submit is two years, is not acceptable. It’s going to be a very quick ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ after study, but the studies are going to go quickly and they’re going to go simultaneously,” Trump said July 15.

In recent related guidance from the administration, the president’s “one federal decision” policy is incorporated to establish time limits of two years for environmental impact statements, and one year for the completion of environmental assessments.

“These common-sense reforms will slash unnecessary government bureaucracy and accelerate important infrastructure projects all across the nation,” according to a rule published in July.

American Trucking Associations is among the dozens of freight stakeholders expressing support for the administration’s direction on streamlining the environmental permitting process.

“This is good news for truckers, the motoring public, our economy and the environment,” ATA President Chris Spear said. “It currently takes an average seven years for a highway construction project to get through federal permitting, which is counterproductive in the extreme. This cumbersome review process presents an enormous obstacle to modernizing our outdated infrastructure, contributing to more traffic congestion and the harmful emissions that come with it.”

Additionally, key Republicans on Capitol Hill have endorsed the White House’s move. Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said, “The slow, inefficient and costly federal review and permitting processes continue to be an impediment to the improvement of America’s infrastructure. I commend the administration for its efforts to modernize the decades-old NEPA process. Committee Republicans agree with this necessary step.”

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